Saturday, February 12, 2011

Original Dungeons and Dragons

More investigations into role-playing games (mostly to plunder them for ideas) led me to a couple of re-writes of the original Dungeons and Dragons game (the red and blue books! Remember?) The games are Labyrinth Lord and Swords & Wizardry (White Box Rules). And you know what? Original D&D sucks. Badly.

There are horrible tables (attack roll tables?!), saving throws, experience points, ability scores, spell levels, Vancian magic systems, alignments, arbitrary weapon restrictions (as if clerics don't shed blood, come on! The crusades, anyone?), etc.

The idea of moving away from D&D 3rd and 4th edition is a good one. Not moving back to AD&D 1st or 2nd edition is also a good idea. But moving back to original D&D? Not a good idea.

What the authors should have done: Taken the idea of "simple" and applied reasoning to it. Take the nostalgia and remould it into a simple and yet modern RPG. The great thing that original D&D has over 4th edition D&D is evocation. Reading about Charm Person is a lot more evocative than reading about Ray of Enfeeblement. These OD&D games have the evocation but they're extremely tedious, power-gamey and complex.

Who are these RPGs even aimed at? I can't imagine how anyone new to the past-time would be even slightly intrigued by the complexity and weirdness of the books. They're not logical nor do they create a space for players to envision their characters. Therefore, I can only imagine that the new releases are for old-school players. If that's the case, why wouldn't we just grab our old red and blue books from the attic, basement, parents' house, siblings' house, etc.? I know I could, but I'm not going to.

1 comment:

  1. Well, I have introduced three people to tabletop gaming recently. One my own age (40), one 20yo, and one in between. I used the old (c. 1981) Basic and Expert sets. They did not find the game complex. They found plenty of space to envision their characters.

    What will their opinion of it be after trying other RPGs? I don't know. I'm interested to see. But they didn't find the game any less fun than I did when it was my first RPG.

    A complete game in two 64 page booklets. With probably at least 10% overlap from being designed as two booklets instead of one. And a lot of that space is spells, monsters, and treasures. It really isn't that complex. And that lack of complexity leaves a lot of space for the players' imaginations.

    And if you think my background is important: Shortly after AD&D2e came out, though, I'd abandoned D&D as hopelessly obsolete. I've played the overly complex systems, and I've played the minimalist systems. I've played those that strove for realism, those that put story first, those concerned with narrative control, etc. So, when I say that the old Basic/Expert D&D is now one of my favorite RPGs, it isn't because I don't know what else is out there.

    As for Labyrinth Lord, I've chosen it for three reasons: (1) As much as I might respect the Basic/Expert division, having the spells, monsters, and treasures split between two booklets is a pain. (2) Openness. I can have the LL PDF on my iPad. I can give it to new players. I can print it for them. They can print it for themselves. Even if Goblinoid stops selling it. I can also download the text and easily integrate my house rules directly into it. (3) I really like Goblinoid's line-up of products and how they work together.

    So, who is it for? It's for me, and it's fine for new players. It may not be for you, but--you know--different strokes.